We were driving across Memorial Bridge over the Kennebec River in Augusta the other day when Phil remembered paying a 10-cent toll to cross it in the 1950s and ’60s.

I pondered that for a minute.

“It took a lot of dimes to amount to much,” I said. “A thousand cars to garner a mere $100.”

Of course, a dime was worth a lot more in those days.

When I was growing up in Skowhegan, the ice cream man came around in a pudgy white truck, a bell ringing and a tune playing as it approached.

It cost 5 cents for a Popsicle or a Fudgesicle, but if you had a dime, you could buy a more deluxe treat — an ice cream sandwich. My sister, Katherine, always had the extra cash and could afford the latter while we younger kids got the cheap treats.

I was fascinated by the white puffs of air that wafted out of the small door on the side of the truck when the ice cream man opened it to retrieve our purchases. He also sold Pine Cone ice cream on a stick which consisted of vanilla ice cream in the shape of a pine cone, dipped in chocolate. If, after consuming it, you found a red tip on the end of the stick, you got a free one.

We also bought candy for next to nothing when we were kids. One cent would net you a piece of bubble gum or two of certain kinds of candy, such as root beer barrels or those striped straws that had sour sugar inside. With a nickel, you could get a slab of Turkish taffy or a peanut butter cup.

When we were real little, my grandmother would give us each a dollar to buy Christmas presents. You’d be surprised at what a dollar would buy. I got presents for the whole family at McLellan’s store downtown. Pencils, pens, paper, candy — all were a nickel each. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

What does a dime or a dollar get you now?

In 1958, my parents bought our rural, five-bedroom house on a nice, flat lot with 30 acres of part field, part woods, for $7,000. We had a big barn, a shed connecting it to the house, a long chicken coop and a garage. It was heaven growing up there.

Now, you’re lucky if you can get a decent house for $200,000 or $300,000, and in the city you can easily spend a million or more.

When I went off to college in Connecticut in the 1970s, everyone told me I was crazy because tuition, room and board cost $5,000 a year. You could attend University of Maine for a fraction of that — still a lot of money in those days — but a more reasonable choice, they said.

I was fortunate to be able to pay off my school loans by the time I was 30. Now, when I hear younger colleagues talk about their enormous college debt, I feel really sorry and scared for them.

If you told me 50 years ago that college 50 years into the future would cost more per year than what I paid for more than five years of college, I mightn’t have believed you.

Inflation is something, isn’t it?

I’m trying to remember the last time I paid a dime for anything.

I guess it was about 20 years ago for a cup of really bad coffee from a machine in the lunchroom, which was off a hallway in the newsroom. You stuck a dime in the slot, a tiny paper cup dropped down, and this lukewarm, grayish liquid drizzled into it.

It was pretty terrible, but at midnight when you were struggling to pound out a story from a council meeting that went on way too long, it was better than nothing.

Kind of like the little pile of groceries you can buy now for a hundred bucks: Better than nothing.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 33 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.


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